A New Sarge in Town Aug23


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A New Sarge in Town

Bernard James, a 6-foot-10, 230 forward/center was drafted to the Dallas Mavericks this year.

Before turning his attention to basketball, James spent six years in the United States Air Force, rising to the rank of staff sergeant and serving tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar. The fans in attendance at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., recognized and celebrated James’ service on Thursday night, chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as the veteran strode up to the stage to shake hands with NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who presides over the second round of the draft. In a draft largely devoid of drama or intrigue, it was, without question, the coolest and most stirring moment of the evening.

The pursuit of a basketball career began relatively late for James, who dropped out of high school at age 16, joined the Air Force at 17, earned his GED and spent two years in community college before an attention-grabbing performance at a 2005 U.S. Armed Forces All-Star tournament caught the eye of Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. But as James told NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper, the wealth of life experience and maturity he developed in the service means there’s not much that’s going to shake him up on the court.

James’ unpolished offensive game — his DraftExpress scouting profile describes his post game as “very raw” and his shooting mechanics as “not pretty to say the least” — will put the kibosh on any comparisons to the the most notable service-member in recent NBA history: David Robinson, nicknamed “The Admiral” but actually a lieutenant, junior grade, in the U.S. Navy. But like Robinson, James credits his pre-basketball career in the armed forces with instilling in him the myriad values that enabled him to hear his name called on draft night.

Right out of the gate, James may find himself with a bigger role to fill and job to do than some may have anticipated, thanks to a trade that saw the Cavaliers ship James, No. 24 pick Jared Cunningham of Oregon State and No. 34 pick Jae Crowder from Marquette to the Mavericks in exchange for North Carolina center Tyler Zeller, the No. 17 overall selection. A look at Dallas’ roster and salary commitments reveals the potential for some opportunity in the middle.

Starting center Brendan Haywood, slated to make a guaranteed $27.2 million over the next three seasons and destined not to live up to that contract, seems like a prime amnesty candidate. Backup center Ian Mahinmi is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, and could draw interest from teams willing to offer him enough to outbid a Dallas team carefully counting its pennies and clearing up space to make a run at coveted point guard Deron Williams. The 2012-13 deal for reserve big Brandan Wright, who was a pleasant surprise in limited minutes off the Mavs’ bench last season, is unguaranteed.

It’s unlikely that all three will return to sop up all Dallas’ minutes at the five; if he shows he can rebound and protect the rim at the next level, James could see floor time a lot sooner than most rookies. And the expectation is that his primary skills will carry over to the NBA game; one team executive told Howard-Cooper before the draft that James would make his team as a defensive big right now.